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PHIRST call for expressions of interest - specification document


Closing date: 8 June 2021, by 1pm

We invite local authorities in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland to submit an expression of interest to identify specific initiatives within their work programmes that will benefit from research or evaluation input. The NIHR Public Health Research (PHR) Programme has appointed four academic teams via the PHIRST scheme. Our four teams are ready to work with local authorities to co-produce research on priority initiatives. The teams are fully funded to co-design and undertake robust research in partnership with local authorities.

The purpose of this call is to find those local authority initiatives which have the potential to impact on health, and which require research input. We anticipate high demand and will prioritise local authority initiatives:

  • that are likely to lead to important impacts on population health
  • that are likely to be widely generalisable
  • where there is an identified need for the initiative
  • where the initiative is readily evaluable
  • where the source of the initiative funding is identified and preferably secured
  • where research will provide timely evidence to underpin policy or practice
  • for this call we are particularly, though not exclusively, interested in interventions that might impact on obesity levels in a population.

Those initiatives selected for research input will be allocated to one of our PHIRST teams which are ready to work with local authorities to co-produce research to underpin priority initiatives. The research (but not the initiative itself) will be fully funded by the PHR Programme.

In this UK-wide scheme, NIHR wishes to fund research on real-world initiatives, in timescales that are relevant to local government, with the aim of informing future policy decisions. We are particularly interested in population level, non-clinical, public health transdisciplinary interventions that impact upon the health of the public and inequalities in health. For this call we are particularly, though not exclusively, interested in interventions that might impact on obesity levels in a population.

Initiatives of interest include work undertaken through any function of, and by any tier of, local government. The work may be in partnership with other organisations (e.g. 3rd or other public sector) and need not have health impact as its primary purpose. However, the focus of the research will need to be on the initiative’s impact on health.

Examples of the projects currently being worked on by our four teams can be found on the Local Authority Research button on the NIHR PHR landing page. Two of the nine projects currently being worked on include an evaluation of the Hammersmith and Fulham ‘Free universal breakfast club and secondary school meals’ initiative, and a evaluation of ‘New models of remote delivery, in drug and alcohol services, introduced during Covid-19’ in Leeds. 

An aim of this scheme is to receive submissions from across the UK from all Devolved Administrations (DAs). It is acknowledged that non-clinical initiatives impacting on public health are delivered/ commissioned by differing bodies within the DAs. Please contact us ( with a brief description of the initiative if you are unsure regarding eligibility.


The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) seeks to make the UK a world leader in public health and prevention research. Co-producing research with the public, policy makers and practitioners will ensure our research answers the most important questions facing policy makers and services at local and national levels. Local authorities are vital partners in this and to date have not always been able to benefit from the research and evaluation support they may have wanted.

The PHR Programme funds research with a focus on local government. Such research should help inform the delivery and implementation of current or future local authority initiatives that have the potential to lead to demonstrable health benefit and reduce inequalities in health.

What do I need to do to be eligible?

The initiative needs to be based in local government in England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland. Any level of local government is eligible - regional, county, district, unitary, town or parish. Expressions of interest need to have the support of the local Director of Public Health (DPH) and, if outside England, the CEO of the relevant local government organisation.

The PHR Programme is interested in local government initiatives that are currently being delivered or are planned for the future. Any initiative that is expected to have an impact (positive or negative) on the health of the local population would be within scope. This could include initiatives not primarily designed as public health interventions, such as road infrastructure, urban planning, clean air or low emission zones, or a new service for the public. The initiative should be in need of research to strengthen the evidence base. Interventions can be within one local authority or delivered across multiple local authorities or UK countries. Where possible we would encourage local authorities with similar approaches to commissioning or with similarly focused initiatives to collaborate and submit a joint expression of interest. Research that can compare approaches across more than one locality will yield more transferable knowledge. Initiatives might be the result of partnerships across organisations other than local government (e.g. 3rd or other public sector) but need to have local government involvement.

Local authorities that submit an expression of interest must be willing to commit time and resource to working in partnership with the PHIRST teams to co-produce research. Dedicated time for discussions and access to the appropriate local authority teams will be essential to the success of the research and its ability to meet the needs of both groups.

What do I get?

One of the PHIRST teams will work with you to co-create and deliver robust research to aid and inform future decision making. The PHR Programme will fully fund all research costs (via the team’s contract), but will not contribute to the costs of delivering the initiative.

The process for prioritising local authority initiatives in need of research input has been designed to be as simple and timely as possible.

It is hoped that the joint working between local authority and academic teams will result in greater mutual understanding, learning of new skills, joint academic and policy publications and, most importantly, findings that will inform future decision making across local government.

Expressions of interest are welcomed that involve more than one local authority area. 

How to submit an expression of interest (EoI)

Using the headings below, submit the online EoI form by 8 June 2021, by 1pm. The form asks for the following information within the space limits of two sides of A4:

  • The organisation(s) leading the initiative
  • Contact details of the lead officer for the initiative (full name, job title and department)
  • Contact details of the lead officer for this EoI (full name, job title and department)
  • Contact details of the supporting Director of Public Health or equivalent
  • Name of the initiative
  • Details of the initiative, including:
    • The background and aims of the initiative
    • A brief description of the nature of the initiative
    • Geographical location(s) of the initiative
    • Link to a website with further information on the initiative if available
    • How the initiative is funded, and the amount and duration of funding
    • Status and timescale of the initiative, with key dates for delivery
    • Any existing evaluation resources allocated to the intervention
    • The initiatives anticipated impacts on population health, on health inequalities and any wider impacts.

EoIs should be submitted by 1pm, 8 June 2021

Your EoI will be reviewed and prioritised by our Programme Oversight Committee which includes representatives from the PHR Programme Prioritisation and Funding Committees. A decision will be communicated to you during July 2021.

Once initiatives are prioritised, the PHR secretariat will arrange a meeting with the selected local government teams to discuss next steps, prior to introduction to the relevant PHIRST team.

This call complements the scope and work of the NIHR School for Public Health Research Public Health Practice Evaluation Scheme (PHPES)NIHR PHR Review team and phinder. PHIRST is unique in covering all four UK nations, being designed around the timescales of local government and for fostering collaboration between academic and local authority teams. NIHR PHR and the School for Public Health Research will work closely together to minimise overlap and maximise complementarity of activities. The geographical spread of projects undertaken by PHIRST will be a key consideration of the PHR Programme. The PHIRST scheme is UK-wide and could present opportunities for comparisons across devolved administrations.